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Mental/Emotional Self-Care

Depression is known as a "mood" (i.e. emotional) disorder. Thus, working directly to balance and stabilize the emotional body is essential in staying free of depression. Here are some helpful tools.

Monitor Your Self-Talk

Words and beliefs have the power to change body chemistry. (Think of how the words "I love you" make you feel.) Examine your beliefs about yourself, the world and the future, and determine if any of them need to changing. Examples of irrational and self-defeating beliefs include "It is important for everyone to like me all the time," "I must be perfect in all that I do," "I shouldn't have to suffer," and "It is my fault that I am depressed." Since upsetting feelings come from upsetting ideas, if you question and challenge the beliefs behind your uncomfortable feelings, you can become more and more free of negative emotions.

Many painful feelings are often the result of distorted, negative thinking, known as "cognitive distortions. " Some common distortions are: all-or-nothing thinking (seeing things in black-and-white categories); mental filter (picking out a single negative detail and dwelling on it exclusively); disqualifying the positive; jumping to conclusions (making a negative interpretation, even though there are no definite facts that support the conclusion); mind reading (arbitrarily concluding that someone else is reacting negatively to you without checking it out); emotional reasoning (assuming that negative emotions reflect the way things really are-i.e., "I feel it, therefore it must be true; should statements; and personalization (seeing yourself as the cause of some negative external event which you are not responsible for).

You can learn more about positive affirmations at AffirmationsHeal.com.

Stay in Touch With All of Your Feelings

To remain emotionally healthy, it is necessary to feel the full range of all of your emotions, even the so-called "negative" ones of sadness, fear and anger. Entering individual or group therapy can provide a safe place where you can learn to identify your feelings and express previously repressed emotions.

Keep a Mood Journal

A mood journal provides a way for you to monitor your moods and emotions on a daily basis, as well as the external and internal events that accompany them. Tracking subtle shifts in your moods can alert you to the early signs of a depressive downturn, and thus allow you to take action to prevent another episode.

Create a Library of Positive Memories

This is a wonderful, self-empowering technique. Make a list of the ten happiest moments of your life. Go back in time and relive them, using your five senses to recreate, in exquisite detail, those joyful experiences. Then, when you are feeling a bit low or need some inspiration, you can call up those pleasant memories. Because the brain cannot differentiate between a real or imagined experience, its neurochemicals will take on the same configuration as they did when the original events occurred. This deceptively simple, yet powerful exercise can enhance your mood regardless of the external circumstances.

Work on Your Unfinished Family of Origin Issues (when appropriate)

Unhealed trauma from the past (abandonment, neglect, abuse, etc.) can be an underlying cause of overt or covert depression. One of the most common forms of unfinished business is unexpressed grief. In his famous paper Mourning and Melancholia, Freud postulated that depression was caused by incomplete mourning. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross identified the five stages of death/grieving as denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. When we do not fully grieve a serious loss, we can get stuck in the depression phase. Hence, the incidence of depression in people who have experienced a significant loss in childhood-e.g., the death of a parent-is much higher than in those who have not. Therapy can help you to more fully resolve any incomplete grief you may be carrying, so that a more complete healing may occur.

Find a Good Therapist

The work of emotional healing requires that we find an ally. There are many types of guides to choose from-psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, pastoral counselors, licensed professional counselors, drug and alcohol counselors, etc. Locating the right therapist means finding the right fit, just as in a marriage or business partnership. Take the time you need and trust your instincts. The person you work with will be an indispensable part of your healing journey.

It is also okay to take time with a therapist before you decide if you want to continue with that person. At the very least you should feel safe, respected and understood by your counselor. The therapist should also be willing to explain his or her therapeutic philosophy and why he or she is using specific techniques.

Expect Ups and Downs

The road to recovery is an upward path, but it is not always smooth and steady. Often we take two steps forward, then one step backward. Be patient with yourself and with the healing process. As poet Jack Kerouac said, "Walking on water wasn't built in a day."

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